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This book had a strange germination, conceived in graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee’s sudden, headlong plunge into reading non-fiction a few years ago, a genre he had carefully avoided up until that point. For someone who didn’t care for the genre at all, Banerjee, surprisingly, turns out to have a fine nose for good writing. He invokes such curiosities as The Cheese and the Worms, Carlo Ginzburg’s iconic work of micro-history centered around a 16th-century miller (although erroneously alluded to as being from the 15th century in the ‘Introduction’), who believed that human beings evolved from rotten materials and paid for it at the Inquisition. Or Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. Or J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, a keenly observed account of a pair of birds of prey wintering in Essex over several years. Banerjee’s most memorable character—Digital Dutta—makes a cameo appearance.
At the same time that Banerjee was immersing himself in these gripping books, came a commission from Deutsche Bank to create 90 murals for their new building in Canary Wharf, London. After fretting over the theme of the murals for a bit, Banerjee decided to draw inspiration from his new reading habit for the illustrations. The text accompanying the visuals, in Banerjee’s distinctive style, consists of canny little observations...on the original texts, the world at large, and nothing in particular.
The writing is meditative, and deliciously odd. Take this for instance: “‘Not to find one’s way around the city does not mean much. But to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires some schooling.’ Thus said Walter Benjamin, the foot philosopher and solemn investigator of futile things. In his youth, he shuffled through Berlin like a detective without a case, collecting clues for an absent crime.”
It could be argued that this is less book and more exhibition catalogue. And, yet, it miraculously comes together. A fractured, post-modern narrative, perhaps, but a narrative nevertheless. When planning the murals, Banerjee had decided to make the whole building read like a book. With this book, things have come full circle.
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